Armenian pilots arrested in Malabo not guilty, diplomat says


May 24 2004

YEREVAN, MAY 24, ARMENPRESS: Armenian ambassador to Egypt, Sergey
Manaserian and a senior diplomat from Armenian foreign ministry
traveled on May 10 to Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea,
where six Armenian nationals had been in custody since March 9
on charges of being involved in a coup, planned to overthrow this
country’s president.

Armenians were among 20 foreigners, arrested in Equatorial Guinea
and all accused of conspiring to overthrow the government of that
country. They are Ashot Karapetian, captain of the AN-12 crew,
second pilot Samvel Darbinian, aeronautical engineer Ashot Simonian,
navigator Samvel Matchkalyan, flight engineer Razmik Khachatrian
and technician-engineer Suren Muradyan According to the Central
Administrative Board of the Civil Aviation of Armenia, the crew worked
for Tiga Air and were running chartered trade flights inside Central
Africa. But authorities in Equatorial Guinea insist that the flight
crew were part of a planned coup to overthrow President Teodoro
Nguema. The Armenian diplomats spent a week in Equatorial Guinea to
learn what their fate might be and discuss possibilities for their
release with local senior officials.

Ambassador Manaserian told Armenpress that the main goal of the visit
was to learn the conditions in which Armenians are being kept and help
their soon release, “as we have a strong belief that they are not
guilty.” The ambassador said messages from president Kocharian and
Catholicos Karekin II had been conveyed to the country’s president
through foreign minister of that country, asking for the release
of Armenians.

Manaserian said they had been given an opportunity to meet with
all six Armenians to see that their physical condition was normal,
they were given food and medical aid. “We were allowed to talk with
them for two hours in Armenian, therefore they had no restrictions
in transferring information to us. The chief of the crew was even
allowed to have a telephone conversation with Yerevan,” Manaserian
said, adding that the pilots reject all charges.

“Judging from our impressions we have come to believe that they were
not involved in the ascribed crime,” Manaserian said. Armenians will
most likely be tried by an Equatorial Guinean court between June
5-20. Manaserian said he believed they will be set free because of
lack of guilt. He said the Armenian delegation will pay another visit
to Equatorial Guinea before the start of the trial.

“They are among the best pilots of all times in Armenia. They are
professional pilots and honest people,” Manaserian said.